Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the lungs – the two spongy organs in your chest that take in oxygen. Survival rates for lung cancer vary widely, depending on how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis. Unfortunately, the prognosis is poorer than other forms of cancer because it is not usually picked up until it has advanced.
What should I be looking out for?
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of lung cancer include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away after two or three weeks
- A long-standing cough that gets worseChest infections that keep coming back
- Coughing up blood
- An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
- Persistent breathlessness
- Persistent tiredness or lack of energy
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.
There are also less obvious signs of lung cancer, such as a subtle change in the base of your nail.
According to Cancer Research UK, if the base of the nail (nail bed) becomes soft and the skin next to the nail bed becomes shiny, it could signal the first stage of finger clubbing.
Finger clubbing means specific changes in the shape of your fingers and fingernails – it is also called digital clubbing or Hippocratic fingers.
Lung cancer is a commonly attributed cause of finger clubbing although it is not exactly clear why this happens.
As Cancer Research UK explains, clubbing is thought to be caused by fluid collecting in the soft tissues at the ends of the fingers.
“This is caused by more blood flowing to the area than usual. But we don’t fully understand why this happens,” says the charity.
It adds: “It may be due to the tumour producing particular chemicals or hormones (this is called a paraneoplastic syndrome).”
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Following the subtle changes to the base of the nail, the nails then curve more than normal when looked at from the side (this is called Scarmouth’s sign).
The ends of the fingers may then get larger (when they are called drumstick fingers).
Patient testimonials hint at the surprising prevalence of finger clubbing as a symptom of lung cancer.
In fact, Brian Gemmell, who was diagnosed with lung cancer nearly four years ago, clubbed fingers was his only symptom.
Speaking to Roy Castle Lung Foundation, he said: “I didn’t have what are considered your ‘common’ lung cancer symptoms. My initial symptom was clubbing of the fingers; the tips of my fingers were swelling up all the time.”
Am I at risk?
The biggest cause of lung cancer is smoking tobacco, which accounts for around seven out of 10 lung cancers, according to Cancer Research UK.
This includes breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke or even light or occasional smoking, the charity warns.
Some substances can also increase the risk of lung cancer – these include asbestos, silica, it says.
Research also suggests that being exposed to diesel fumes over many years increases your risk of developing lung cancer.
One study has shown your risk of developing lung cancer increases by around 33 percent if you live in an area with high levels of nitrogen oxide gases (mostly produced by cars and other vehicles).
Researchers are also looking at how our genes could affect your risk of lung cancer.
Your risk of lung cancer is higher if you have a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) who has had lung cancer.
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